Heidrun Meadery’s Gordon Hull has a proclivity for fermented beverages. The former geologist-turned beer brewer began experimenting with honey fermentation in Humboldt County in the late ’90s. Seduced by the results, he decided to pursue the path less traveled and devote his full attention to mead making – an ancient art that involves fermenting honey with water. Now located in Point Reyes Station, Heidrun Meadery has been producing brut dry and sparkling mead in the Champagne-style ever since, and to this day is the only such producer in the Americas.
MM: What exactly is Mead?
Mead is an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting honey. There are innumerable styles of mead and each has its own distinct characteristics. Generally, mead producers are regulated as a winery and our license is the same license grapes wineries possess. Mead is also commonly called “honey wine”.
MM: Which plants do you cultivate and how do they influence flavor?
We specialize in varietal meads, which is to say each of our meads is produced using honey derived from a specific floral source – such as Orange Blossom, Sage Blossom and Raspberry Blossom – or from a specific geographic area, such as our Point Reyes Wildflower varietal or the Sonoma Mountain Wildflower varietal. The flavor of each of our varietals is determined by the floral source for the honey. Our Orange Blossom varietal has many of the perfume-like aromatics we associate with orange blossoms, while our Chicory Blossom varietal has notes of juniper and ginger. Carrot Blossom is one of our more popular varietals and it tastes a lot like an amped up Belgian Saison! What’s fascinating about this broad spectrum of flavors is that they all come from the nectar of the source flower. We don’t manipulate the flavor of our meads by using additives and flavorings and, in fact, we think that’s the whole point in making mead; nature’s floral diversity provides a spectacular array of tasting experiences.
MM: It sounds like it can be healthy for you; is this true?
When folks visiting our tasting room ask me that question I always tell them I’m 92 years old (I’m actually 57) and I drink mead every day. More seriously, we all know that honey is a healthier choice when it comes to sweetening our tea and we do hear that some honey varieties have health benefits. Whether that benefit can be translated through fermentation into mead, I don’t honestly know. I do know this, though: honey is composed almost entirely of flower nectar, and I can’t think of a more beautiful beverage than wine made from flower nectar.
MM: The alcoholic content of mead ranges widely – why is that?
GH: Yes, we’re seeing all sorts of variability in alcohol content, from “sessions meads” at 6% to fortified meads at, what, 24%? This all goes back to the remarkable diversity of styles in the mead category and, generally speaking, that’s a good thing. Many meadmakers are taking a page from the latest chapter of the beer book and throwing convention out the window. If they can make a pleasant drinking experience out of their experimentation, more power to them.
MM: Where can we taste your mead in Marin?
At our farm and tasting room in Point Reyes Station. Also in Marin, you can get it at: Osteria Stellina, Station House Cafe, and Marin Sun Farms in West Marin and Pig in a Pickle in Corte Madera. Or you can purchase a bottle at Good Earth, Whole Foods, and Drivers Market in Sausalito.
11925 State Route 1
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
Lynda Balslev is an award-winning food writer, editor and recipe developer based in the San Francisco Bay area. She authors the nationally syndicated column and blog TasteFood, and co-authored the cookbook Almonds: Recipes, History, Culture (2015 Silver Medal Winner Independent Publisher Awards). She is the 2011 recipient of the Chronicle Books Award (Recipe Writing) to the Symposium for Professional Food Writers, and a 2018 Fellowship Award recipient to the Symposium for Wine Writers at Meadowood, Napa Valley. Lynda’s writing and photography have been recognized by the New York Times Diners Journal, the Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post and more.